Michael Cella



When Dr. Dre's 2001 came out in 1999 (keep up!) I was 13 years old. For a week over that christmas break, I stayed with my uncle in New Jersey. At some point I nosy-teenagered my way into his basement, where I found a fridge full of Heineken, boxes of Playboy magazines, and racks of CDs and vinyls from his days as a DJ. How any 13 year old could have walked out from that room alive was a miracle, but I managed to part the seas of beer and my own bodily fluids, emerging like an acned Moses holding up 2001 and some other CDs like plastic tablets.


Thirteen is a perfect age to really discover rap. By that point your balls have dropped just far enough to hold on to as you rhyme along from your parents' basement. Nine months before 2001, Eminem put out The Slim Shady LP, which was Obama getting elected for white kids. If we can do this, maybe we can even dunk? Too afraid to buy my own copy, I went to my friend Andrew's every day after school and listened to it while playing his Dreamcast. The next year I bought a bootleg copy of Ludacris' Back for the First Time at a flea market which I kept hidden under my mattress (along with Linkin Park's Hyrbrid Theory, for when girls made me sad). “The struggle is real” wasn't a real phrase yet, but a 13 year old living in a suburb of Philadelphia with christian parents really had to struggle to acquire raps. “Cruisin USA on my 64” was the only anthem for Boyz N Da Suburbs. My dad liked to say that it sounded like “those rappers” all wanted to kill him specifically. Which was the best possible endorsement a dad could give.


One day my uncle (who now worked in IT like a real gangsta) showed me how to use Napster, and it was like when the machines in the Matrix scorched the sky. The war was now underground, back in my parents' basement with a dial-up connection and all the blank CDs my lawn-mowing money could fund. With the power of the internet I would work my way up the family tree from great-grandchildren Eminem and 50 Cent back to NWA, with some Ja Rule thrown in just to make things weird.


When Straight Outta Compton came out this week, I was 29 and I watched it with another white dude, with whom I've spent hours discussing good Kid, m.A.A.d city, just really putting our college degrees to work. We watched the first half like we once watched Space Jam, seeing our childhood heroes do the Looney Toons gangster shit that made them our heroes. After that it was mostly a mashup of Wikipedia footnotes. Hey, there's a guy being Tupac. There's Suge Knight in a red track suit beating a dude's ass. Also, Snoop Doggy mothafuckin Dogg. Somehow Dr. Dre only punched one person in the whole movie, which was as weird as when they play “It Was a Good Day” on the radio before noon (after 4pm or once I've taken my pants off is appropriate). Somehow Eazy-E developed a hybrid AIDS-cough for which there was no AIDS-cough medicine. Most of all I learned that how much money you have is how good you get to look in your biopic.


But before it was over, I got to see “Fuck Tha Police” be born. And for a kid who's gotten a whole HEAP of speeding tickets, that was pretty dope.